#FreeShantonio: End the Criminalization of Survivors

The Nashville Feminist Collective joins other advocates in Tennessee and nationwide urging Nashville DA Glenn Funk to drop charges against domestic violence survivor, Shantonio Hunter, who is being prosecuted for the death of her child because she was unable to control the violence of her abuser.

For more background on the criminalization of survivors through “failure to protect” laws and charges, see: “Child Abuse by Omission: How American Law Holds Mothers Responsible for Their Partners’ Crimes,” “Battered, Bereaved, and Behind Bars,”and “Why is California Keeping Kelly Savage in Prison for a Crime She Didn’t Commit?”

Shantonio and Elijah

How you can support the effort to #FreeShantonio:

  1. Court Support: Come to court next week, starting June 5 and show community support for Shantonio, especially on Thursday, June 8.
  2. Love Letters to Shantonio: Send her a note of support and encouragement as she heads to trial next week.

Shantonio Hunter
409871
CoreCivic
5115 Harding Pl.
Nashville, TN 37211

  1. Write the DA: Send an e-mail to Davidson County District Attorney General Glenn R. Funk (glennfunk@jis.nashville.org) urging him to dismiss all charges against Shantonio because:
  • Prosecuting Shantonio goes against the city and DA’s Office’s professed commitment to better serve victims of domestic violence in Nashville.
  • It is victim blaming to punish victims of domestic violence for the actions of their abusers.
  • The most dangerous time for victims of domestic violence is when they try to leave.
  • Shantonio did not “fail to protect” her child, she was unable to control a person who used abusive power against her and her child.
  • Domestic violence is isolating and it is common for victims of domestic violence to hide the abuse from others. Prosecuting survivors only further isolates them from the resources that they need.
  • Prosecuting and incarcerating domestic violence victims puts courts and prisons in the same punitive role as their batterers.

See below for the letter to DA Glenn Funk that NFC signed.

May 26, 2017

District Attorney General Glenn R. Funk
Washington Square, Suite 500
222 2 nd Avenue North
Nashville, TN 37201

Dear Mr. Funk,

As you well know, domestic violence is a persistent problem in Nashville, one which your office has committed to address by dedicating specialized assistant DA’s and a new division for domestic violence cases. And yet, Nashville continues to fail domestic violence victims because we continue to jail and prosecute them, as is the case for Shantonio Hunter who is currently being prosecuted for the actions of her abuser. Nashville can and must do better. For this reason, we the undersigned local, state and national organizations, urge you to dismiss all charges against Shantonio so that she can begin to grieve, heal and rebuild her life.

Incarcerated for the past four years while awaiting trial for charges of felony murder, aggravated child abuse and child neglect, Shantonio faces life in prison for “failing to protect” her three-year-old son Elijah, a charge that completely disregards the profound lack of control victims have while in abusive relationships. Domestic violence victims who try to protect their children from the abuse are often dangerously trapped in situations with no safe options. It is a well-documented fact that leaving the relationship is the most dangerous time for victims of domestic violence. Domestic violence is especially lethal for black women like Shantonio who are about three times more likely to die at the hands of a current or ex-partner than victims of other racial backgrounds. Among black women killed by a partner, almost half were killed while in the process of leaving . And, though domestic violence and child abuse frequently overlap, victims like Shantonio are often held responsible for the abuse of their partner. Shantonio did not “fail to protect” her child, she was unable to control a person who used abusive power against her and her child.

Punishing Shantonio for essentially being a victim of domestic violence who was not only herself abused, but also tragically lost her child to this violence, is truly unconscionable. Prosecuting and incarcerating domestic violence victims puts courts and prisons in the same punitive role as their batterers, which compounds and prolongs victims’ experience of ongoing trauma and abuse. Criminalizing survivors only further isolates them from the community resources they desperately need. As Shantonio Hunter’s trial date quickly approaches, we urge you to take a step towards ending the criminalization of survivors by dismissing all charges against her. If Nashville is to be a city truly concerned with the safety of victims of domestic violence, then that concern and compassion must extend to all victims.

Sincerely,

Nashville Feminist Collective
Participatory Defense Nashville
Free Hearts
Black Lives Matter Nashville
Healthy and Free Tennessee
Moms United Against Violence and Incarceration (Chicago, IL)
The Real Costs of Prisons Project
Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) Nashville

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Join our Steering Committee!

Dear feminists,

We are actively seeking passionate, collaborative, diverse, and interested candidates to join our steering committee! According to our bylaws, the steering committee must be majority people of color, but people of all backgrounds are welcome to apply.

The main responsibilities of the steering committee are:

  1. With membership, setting priorities and goals that align with NFC’s mission and values
  2. Furthering the work of the collective through visioning and re-evaluating based on our mission and values
  3. Developing processes that reflect our mission and values
  4. Recruiting and mobilizing a diverse membership and leadership
  5. Liaising with other local social justice partner groups and
  6. Being accountable and transparent to our members

In order to join the steering committee, you must become a member of NFC. Become a member here.

For more information about steering committee roles, responsibilities, and expectations see this document. The steering committee term is 1 year. We hope to build a sustainable organization where members and leaders are nourished and affirmed, not drained and burned out.

(We have only just started signing up members for the first time this month, so the requirement that you must be a member for 1 year does not apply for this election.)

If you would like to nominate yourself or someone else as a leader of the NFC, please submit your contact information using this Google form. We highly encourage self-nominations by interested individuals.

*Nominations will be accepted until November 14th, 2016.*

Please direct any questions you might have to nashvillefeministcollective@gmail.com.

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Join the NFC for a conversation on Revolutionary Mothering with book co-editor China Martens

revmothering_event-sbc

[Image description: Revolutionary Mothering Sunday, Oct. 16th Scarritt Bennett Center International Room 2:30-4 pm. A Conversation and workshop exploring what it means to be a mother engaged on the front lines of justice work. Books will be available for purchased and signing at this event. On the right side is an image of the book with the title Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines and below that is an image of China Martens, co-editor.]

Inspired by the legacy of radical and queer black feminists of the 1970s and ’80s, “Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines” places marginalized mothers of color at the center of a world of necessary transformation. The challenges we face as movements working for racial, economic, reproductive, gender, and food justice, as well as anti-violence, anti-imperialist, and queer liberation are the same challenges that many mothers face every day. Mothers from marginalized backgrounds create a generous space for life in the face of oppression and activate a powerful vision of the future while navigating tangible concerns in the present. Come join co-editor China Martens for a discussion of movement shifting committed to birthing new worlds.

Community discussion, book talk, and signing.

China Martens is a single mother of a grown daughter from Baltimore, Maryland. She is the author of The Future Generation: The Zine-Book for Subculture Parents, Kids, Friends and Others and coeditor of Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind: Concrete Ways to Support Families in Social Justice Movements and Communities. Since 2003, China has co-facilitated numerous workshops to create support for parents and children in activist and radical communities at universities, conferences, and healing spaces across the United States and Canada. She also was a cofounder of Kidz City, a radical childcare collective in Baltimore (2009–2013) and is connected to a national circle of radical childcare collectives established at the 2010 US Social Forum in Detroit.

Free Hearts is an organization led primarily by formerly incarcerated women and mothers in support of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated mothers and their families. Their S.E.A. (Support, Education, and Advocacy) work includes facilitating a support group for mothers at the Metro-Davidson County Detention Facility in Nashville, facilitating support groups for children of incarcerated parents in metro Nashville Public Schools, and advocating for social change that enhances the wellbeing of low-income mothers and mothers of color, their families and communities by prioritizing the needs and voices of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated mothers and their children.

Co-sponsors:
Free Hearts (https://www.facebook.com/freeheartsorg)
Nashville Feminist Collective
Scarritt Bennett Center
Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center, Vanderbilt
Carpenter Program in Religion, Gender, and Sexuality, Vanderbilt

**Accessibility**

DIRECTIONS:
http://www.scarrittbennett.org/about/maps-directions

PARKING: Please park in Lot B.

BUS: This location is walkable from the Hillsboro #7 bus.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBILITY: The International Room is on the 2nd floor of Scarritt Hall. Wheelchair accessibility is through Bennett Hall – 1st floor elevator. Call 706-767-3588 if you need assistance, or email Marie Campbell elizabeth.m.campbell@gmail.com.

Gender neutral restrooms are available in the building.

No Spanish or ASL translation provided.

We cannot guarantee the space will be scent-free.

Please do not take flash photography so that folks with epilepsy don’t have seizures; please do not wear perfumes, colognes or essential oils so that chemically injured community members can attend.

The event is FREE!!! And open to the public.

On-site childcare provided.

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Fatal Force Project

On September 19, 2016 the Nashville chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists hosted a conversation with David Fallis, deputy investigative editor of The Washington Post, about the newspaper’s Pulitzer-Prize winning creation of a national police shootings database. This is a feminist issue because policing shootings disproportionately impact marginalized groups such as people of color and people with disabilities and the collective is interested in visioning a world without police violence.

The Washington Post database, started in 2015, is called the Fatal Force Project. It only includes deaths by police shootings and not deaths in custody or taser deaths. It breaks the data down by state, gender, race, and if there was a weapon involved.

The September 19th meeting was at the First Amendment Center on the Vanderbilt campus, with MTSU co-hosting the event. The discussion was facilitated by Deborah Fischer and David Fallis. The discussion was more like a large Q&A session. David was asked what prompted this database to come to life, and he answered that it was a long time coming. They had tried a similar project back in 2008 but it never made it off the ground. What re-sparked interested in the database was Ferguson, Missouri with the fatal shooting of Mike Brown. News agencies and the public became interested in fatal force used by police. They worked for months trying to find the best way to compile data and they found the best way would be to track police shootings in real time via news stories.

The reason they began the real time shootings started when they began requesting data from the FBI and they found it to be terribly incomplete. The team also knew that across the country there are 18,000 law enforcement agencies, so submitting requests for archived data would be impossible. David had a pro-law enforcement bias before he started the project and wasn’t sure the evidence would be there to show excessive shootings by police. However, once the data starting coming in it was overwhelming. The police were killing 3-4 people a day. He realized this project was worthwhile. David said “it changed my mind” about what they were doing after he saw the video death of Walter Scott, a man fatally shot by police in South Carolina.

They also found alarming rates of fatal police shootings in cases where there was a mental “crisis” by the civilian. However, they were quite conservative with their reporting of these numbers because of how difficult it is to say or prove a mental health issue after the person is dead. They also had many difficult discussions about how many people were armed vs unarmed. They tackled what “armed” meant or what posed a significant threat. I personally found David’s explanations of armed to be biased because of his heavy involvement and attachment with law enforcement (his father was a cop). From their definitions and data, they found about 3/4ths of civilians fatally shot by police were “armed”, which meant with a gun, a toy, a knife, a stick, basically anything other than their bare hands. He made it a point to mention that “unarmed” civilians involved in fatal shootings were a “small subset” of the people shot.

David also described the difficulty of obtaining information from police stations. Departments will rarely release the names of the cops who fatally shot folks. Other details leak quickly, the name of the person killed, their age, gender, race, if they were armed, etc. With what the Post dug up they found that around 50-55 officers who had fatally shot someone in 2015 had fatally shot someone at least once before. David mentioned with this type of data they now have and with the project they have undertaken, it has seriously changed the way people and the media report and view these issues. Media agencies now put more pressure on police departments to release the cops name and previous history of shootings, which was never the norm before.

The questions from Deborah ended at this time and it became an open floor for any of the people in the audience to ask some questions to David. A few items that came up was body cameras and the implications of using them. David mentioned that even with body cameras, it often made it less clear cut than they could have imagined. If footage could even be obtained from the department it was often unhelpful. Some questions were also asked about the difference between their data at the Post and the data that the Guardian has on their website. He explained the Guardian covers taser and in custody deaths and their coverage at the Post is only fatal force by shooting. I asked David about the gender makeup of the shootings and if they only covered the binary genders or also included a category for transgender people or gender nonconforming people. He admitted that they did not and it was purely on a binary scale of male or female.  I followed up with him on twitter because I was curious of what category transgender people killed by police got put into. He replied that the transgender people who get murdered by police go into the category of the gender at which they identified with at their death.

So what are the implications for this and the state of Tennessee? If you look on the website you can see that last year, 20 men were shot and killed by the police in our state. Out of the 20, 4 were black, 13 were white, 2 were another race, and 1 was not noted. There are 6,600,299 people in Tennessee as of 2015. That means there is a 0.00030302 chance of you being killed by an officer. Remember, this does not include taser nor in custody deaths. If you are a white male you have a 0.00054% of being shot. If you are a black male in Tennessee, you have a 0.00080% of being shot and killed. David is continuing his project into this year but is unsure of how long he can or will keep up with fatal force shootings by the police in the future.

-Kimmy G for the Nashville Feminist Collective

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Dear Betsy Phillips

Dear Betsy,

First off, we wanted to say that we are big fans of yours. We are so glad for your voice in local politics and we are quite honored that you are paying attention to what some members of the Nashville Feminist Collective think and say. We can’t speak for the entire collective, but a few of us wanted to offer some kind of engagement with your writing since you addressed our group specifically. We hope that this response will be taken in the spirit of “calling in” with compassion rather than calling out with judgment and self-righteousness. You are right that “Women don’t have to strike the right tone to deserve to have our concerns addressed.” But doing good, intersectional feminism means each of us relying on other feminists to hold us accountable when we get something wrong. We hope that you would do the same for us.

We would never want to discount or question a woman’s fears of personal safety due to the ever-present threat of gender-based harassment and intimidation in our world that is unfortunately dominated by patriarchal violence. We agree that, as you said in your follow up article, suffering does not make men virtuous. Your feelings of safety deserve to be addressed, and it is a larger discussion worth having about public spaces beyond just the library. Our critique was not, however, that you should feel less fear of men who are unhoused than of men who wear business suits; our critique was that your article, in describing these unhoused men, was classist and dehumanizing and that your intention to address the lack of safe space for women was lost amidst the classist and dehumanizing language. Your follow up article did not address that critique at all. 

In particular, your first article said: “…when you’re using the library as your locker room/laundromat/daytime hangout, it interferes with my ability to use the library as a place to find information. That sucks. I should be able to use the library my tax dollars support without being grossed out by the smell or the shape of the facilities and without being frightened by the people who seem to have staked out parts of the public building as theirs and are then guarding it.” How this reads, to us, is that other people’s poverty and experience of systemic injustice –– and their very bodies –– are “gross” and that you are frightened simply because they are using the space. Unhoused and poor folks are already under the presumption of guilt/vice, that is, they are assumed to be without virtue (poverty being seen as a moral failing in our culture), even criminal, and you play into it. Instead of naming the specific ways you felt unsafe you attribute a sense of danger and outrage over the conditions of the library to a whole class of people who are disenfranchised by systemic injustice.

If you were describing another setting as unsafe for women, where mostly black men congregate, and you used terms like “superpredator” or “brute” we would call that racist language. If you described a setting unsafe for women in an area where trans men and women congregate, and you used terms like “pervert” we would call that transphobic. So when you describe the library as unsafe because unhoused people make it feel “gross” and “smell” we call your piece classist.

You clearly have an excellent analysis of racism and white appropriation of black culture. You have written about it masterfully here, here, and here. When this happens, you call it “racism” not “being mean” to black people. Racism, like classism, is systemic, not only interpersonal.

Nashville is a class-divided city. The term “taxpayers” is divisive in that it designates two groups of people, those who pay taxes and those who are poor. It also designates an entitled citizen and those who are not entitled to public space, to public bathrooms, to spend time at the library. You seemed to be saying that the library exists for the common good and use of everyone. . . except people who smell bad.

It also seems important to note that Nashville has been built on the backs and by the labor of unhoused or precariously housed people. Many of the people we encounter on the third floor work construction, janitorial, and public works jobs through day labor agencies that send them out to do the hard work that keeps our city running and growing, but do not pay them a fair wage, charge high fees for their services, and offer no security for this disposable work force. What the poorest people may not pay in taxes, they often pay for with their labor –– their bodies and their health –– for other comforts we enjoy. Perhaps this is helpful to keep in mind when thinking about entitlement to public spaces.

Please also keep in mind all the unhoused people who frequent the library as one of the last remaining public spaces that should be an equalizer for people from all races, socio-economic statuses and walks of life. Practically everywhere else, in day shelters, at meal programs, and the like, these folks are labeled, grouped, and often criminalized by their poverty. Many people go to the library for respite from that system, for a few hours to feel normal or blend in like they could be anyone else just using the library. Not to mention that unhoused folks often are just using the library like anyone else – for reading books, relaxing, and utilizing the information services offered in these public spaces. These folks are already subject to disproportionate policing in the outside world and increasing security staff inside the library, especially the third floor which has given you pause. It’s one thing to notice feeling uncomfortable there and exploring that feeling. It’s another thing to publicly call out unhoused folks for making the library (one of the few safer spaces they may have) “gross,” as if they are at fault, and now they could be left to face the consequences of your words in security crackdowns, new usage rules, or even simply more people following your lead to notice them and feel offended by their presence rather than systemic injustice which leaves them with almost nowhere else to legally exist.

Even the most conscious social justice advocates among us can make mistakes, especially when we don’t address our own privilege. To assert that because we are taxpayers, we should not have to share our library experience with unhoused people is oppressive to those who are currently unhoused or have ever been unhoused living in Nashville. Just as racism oppresses a significant portion of this city, classism is equally dangerous in its own way. And just as it is important for us to remain open to criticism when being called racist, we must understand that being called “classist” is not an attack on one’s character, but a call to action. One of the greatest threats to real progress is our immediate instinct to defend ourselves when addressed with our own prejudices. We are often more afraid being called “racist” or “sexist” or “classist” than actually being any of these things.

You have a unique platform and a respected voice. We encourage you and your readers to learn more about the challenges facing unhoused people in Nashville, perhaps by volunteering with Open Table, Safe Haven, or Oasis. Next time you’re in the library, please talk with someone who depends on that space for public restrooms, computer access, and a quiet place to rest. Ask what the library means to them. It’s probably more about access and rest than a place to engage in “hinky” behavior. We appreciate and second your concern that there should be more places that offer shelter and housing for these folks –– please use your voice and resources to help make that a reality. We also hope you continue to report on the many social justice groups and activism happening in Nashville. Lastly, we invite you to join (rejoin?) the Nashville Feminist Collective so that we can work for justice that transforms not only the city, but all of us as well.

Signed,

Anna Carella
Whitney Washington
Lauren Plummer
Kelly Waller
Becca Dryden

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Tennessee Stories Project

 

The Nashville Feminist Colletsp-acro-logo-1-1ctive is a partner of the Tennessee Stories Project (TSP). The TSP is an effort to reduce abortion stigma by creating a space for those in Tennessee who have had an abortion to share their stories. Too often, conversations about abortion are dominated by the voices of those who seek to shame and intimidate. The goal of TSP is to promote a culture of compassion and to strip away the stigma associated with abortion by lifting up the voices of those who have had them. Help combat abortion stigma by sharing your story. You can learn more about the project at: http://tnstories.org.

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What kind of group is the Nashville Feminist Collective?

The Nashville Feminist Collective (NFC) is a grassroots, community organizing collective with a virtual/online presence. Our power is generated–in part, but importantly–from personal interactions with one another and with the members of other local organizations we support and and with whom we partner. The purpose of our online presence is to increase accessibility and provide another avenue for our members to communicate, share information, and build relationships. It is one of multiple organizing spaces.

We seek to build feminist leadership, feminist allyship, and feminist community–in part, through connecting individuals and communities, strengthening ties between communities, and building and deepening relationships. We initiate and lead our own work, and amplify the work of others, to address the injustices experienced by our members and by other marginalized members of our Nashville community.

NFC aims to center the experiences, needs, and voices of those who have been historically left out and overlooked in mainstream feminist activism. These means centering working class, disabled, LGBTQI+, women and nonbinary people of color, especially black women. Every issue that we take on must be approached from an intersectional lens.

Steering Committee

Our current leadership is in the process of transitioning to a steering committee. We are moving from “leadership” to “steering committee” because we see our role as facilitators, mobilizers, liaisons, and dreamers and do not seek hierarchical power over members. It is the founders intention that the NFC steering committee should always be majority people of color because at the intersection of every oppression, the most marginalized will always be a person of color and especially black people. 

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